Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

from afar

weekend market



clam shovels

fishing nets

gold pans & sluice box





When you look at Anchorage on a map and thinks of its name, you get a totally wrong impression of what this town is all about. What looks like a 180 mile inland passage from the Gulf of Alaska with a protected harbor, is actually a lengthy mud flat called Cook Inlet where the tides move in and out raising the water level thirty feet. In fact, if you are in the right spot as the tide comes in you can see a wave so strong locals surf on it. As the inlet widens near the sea it is called Turnagain Arm, a name that reflects what Captain Cook repeatedly had to do as he searched for the Northwest Passage.

Although cruises purport to start in Anchorage, there is no way a large ship could have any sort of regular schedule with the huge water level changes. Cruisers take a one hour bus transfer through a huge mountain via a one lane tunnel to Whittier where the anchorage truly is an anchorage. It could be tempting to walk on the mud flats that surround Anchorage when the tide is low, but some of it is quick sand and the water rises so fast (8 feet/hour) that people have gotten stuck and drowned before they were rescued. Unlike most other towns we've visited in Alaska, Anchorage has no significant mineral deposits and got its start as a railroad terminal as the lines were built from the coast inland. Guesshat's why we get to enjoy the sound of the trains roaring past our campground at all hours of the day.

We've used the time in the big city to catch up on shopping needs, both necessary and touristic. We love to shop at Fred Meyers, THE grocery store in Alaska. It's fun to see their extensive selection of gold pans and water sluice boxes, shovels for clam digging and fishing paraphenalia. Head nets (to protect you from mosquitos) are also available here. It's great to be in a large store with a good selection of the things we like to eat with prices coming closer to what we are used to paying at home. It's been easy to get used to not having to pay sales tax. Alaskans love their coffee and we love the extensive selection of beans available. However, diet soda is a rare commodity. Wonder why?

We also had a good time at the weekend market. The fact that the cloud cover thinned and a weak sun brought the temperatures up to 65º also helped a lot. I saw locals wearing flip flops and the sort of spaghetti strap sun dress I might wear when it's 90º+. Alaskans have lots of time in the deep darkness and cold of winter to make handicraft items and what we found at the market was a quality selection of jewelry, statues, paintings and photographs for sale. Ulus, the classic Eskimo knife, were for sale everywhere. A vendor selling T-shirts that made fun of Texan pride in the large size of their state, made us laugh. After spending a few winters enjoying the Texan weather, we would enjoy wearing one of those shirts in the Rio Grande Valley. A few farmers from the Mat-Su Valley sold local vegetables and fruit imported from Washington. The farmers will have a larger presence later in the summer.

In one corner representatives from a wildlife rescue shelter displayed owls they had brought back to health. While we think of these birds as nocturnal, there really is no nocturnal here in the summer, but the owls fly so quietly, they are still hard for us to see. Their wings have ruffled edges which makes them quiet fliers, but prevent them from climbing and swooping as other birds do, and they are especially vulnerable to cars. One row of the market was food vendors and we enjoyed the salmon quesadillas so much, they are on the list to try to duplicate at home.

We also stopped at the downtown mall to visit the Apple Store. It's hard to imagine us being within ten miles of one and not having some reason to stop. Ever since Ken's phone lost its connection with Verizon when we entered Canada, he's been trying to get the data service going on his iPad. Since he also bought that at Verizon, no one has wanted to help, but the combined forces of the Apple geniuses and an accommodating sales rep at AT&T activated the sim card for data service on a monthly basis. From here we plan to move south in the Kenai Peninsula to do some boon docking, so phone and internet service might be sketchy. With my phone on Verizon, a data card on Sprint, and the iPad on AT&T, we are hedging our bets as best we can.

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